The Electric Cinema on Station Street proudly holds the title of ‘The UK’s oldest working cinema’ – but in order to truly live up to that billing its new owner knows he needs to get the picture palace performing again. Unlike the multiplexes. the cinema has not reopened after closing its doors in March 2020 at the time of the first national lockdown but the good news is film fans won’t have to wait too much longer, Omicron permitting.

On November 2, BirminghamLive enjoyed an exclusive interview inside the cinema with passionate new owner Kevin Markwick who told us of his dream to have the two screens flickering into life before Christmas. Except that he had a funeral to go to in Europe, the projectors didn’t work and the building desperately needed its heating back on to feel comfortable again. Work to get The Electric fit for purpose has taken longer than expected, partly because Kevin’s first cinema is the 104-year-old Picture House and it’s 170 miles away in Uckfield, East Sussex.

Since he acquired the keys from former owner Tom Lawes and paid his first proper visit to the cinema on November 2, the country has been hit by the uncertainty of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Moving Forward

Although Kevin’s dream of opening before Christmas has been dashed, missing that target merely confirms the accuracy of his own personal website which says: “I’m in the dark. It’s my job. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.”

And so this irrepressible cinephile is still defiantly optimistic it won’t be too long before the site is welcoming films fans once again. “Now the heating is on, it’s warm and toasty,” says Kevin. “And I think people are going to love what we do once we finally get over the starting line.”

Not being able to reopen this year means The Electric Cinema will be closed for its second birthday running. Nobody could have foreseen what would happen next after its 110th birthday was celebrated at the end of December, 2019.

On December 27 it should have jumped to having 112 candles on one of its famous handmade cakes – but then there’s always next year’s 113th birthday bash to look forward to.

Asked if he’d been renovating the cinema, Kevin said: “That’s too strong a word. Resurrecting, I’d say. We are getting there, but there has been more to it than expected, which is fair enough considering how long it’s been closed. Still, we’ve got new toilets! And I’ve hired some digital projectors to get us going… hopefully we’ll have laser ones coming in February and we’re keeping 35mm too, though I’m the only one who knows how that works.”

The seats have been cleaned up, too, but replacing some or all of them might take two or three years as and when funds allow.

Electric Cinema Reopening

“The current plan is to reopen on Friday, January 21,” said Kevin. “I’m booking films so let’s hope that events don’t overtake us – if they do, there’s not going to be a lot we can do about that. What I don’t really want to do is to open and then have to close again – (so if things worsen) do we then wait a bit longer. But our website will be going live, our social media will be active and we’ll be rolling out the kind of subscription service we run in Uckfield where we have 4,000 members and up to 160,000 admissions per year in a town of 15,000 people. Who knows what the take-up will be at The Electric, but young people especially seem to like it in Uckfield.”

Interviews have been held in the past few days to recruit staff to run the cinema which is expected to create ten jobs.

One reason Kevin took on The Electric was to give members of his own team the chance to “spread their wings a bit”. And so the cinema will be managed by his own daughter Katie, 32, who is moving up to Birmingham with her partner. She has learned all about the trade from Kevin, who inherited the Uckfield site in 1994 following the death of his own father who’d taught his son everything he knows.

After relinquishing The Electric, former owner Tom told BirminghamLive in November: “Kevin is definitely the best man for the job. Unlike me, cinema exhibition is his full-time career.




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